Galway can prove another Apt success
There are few more accurate monitors of the true state of Irish racing's health than Galway's summer Festival which commences this evening, with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and the promoters alike fervently hoping for another satisfactory week's trading.
A modest upswing attendance-wise gave HRI some encouragement from the industry's otherwise sobering returns for the first six months of the year, and the annual session in Ballybrit is unfailingly vital to the sport's financial well-being.
While last year's total on-course betting of €23,265,000 was down almost €5m on the 2008 returns, Galway remains the undisputed king of the post-Punchestown festival circuit and traditionally the crowds continue to flock to the venue.
Running in tandem as usual with Glorious Goodwood, the next seven days in the western capital should tell a tale for both the HRI board and the track's go-ahead executive as to how exactly we are coping with the ongoing financial downturn.
Weather-wise, it seems the worst of the mid-summer downpours are behind us for the duration of the fixture and the ground continues to dry out, with the official description yesterday morning as good-to-yielding, yielding in places.
That's a real improvement on the worrying scenario of three days previously for the majority of trainers, whose intended main challengers -- for the feature races in particular -- have shown their best form on a decent surface.
Going just on the easy side of good would be acceptable in most quarters for the initial card -- sponsored by the premier local hoteliers -- that's designed to cater again for a variety of interests over jumps and on the Flat.
The usual strong team for Dermot Weld includes runners under both codes, though this evening the Curragh maestro seems to be aiming his best shots towards races which he has tended to dominate, namely the amateur Flat handicap and the juvenile maiden.
The Claregalway Hotel Maiden that kicks off the Jackpot has A Word Apart attempting to become Weld's 20th victor in this particular contest, and he's looking for a fourth win on the trot in the Carlton Hotel's €75,000 flagship amateur event.
Carlton Hotel Amateur Handicap (7.00)
In a competitive-looking renewal that includes 2006 victor P'tit Fute attempting to enhance his good record here, Weld relies on recent Curragh winner Sublime Talent for a fourth successive win in the race.
Robbie McNamara, who did the business for Weld on Majestic Concorde and Ghimaar, partners Eagle's Pass, with Roger Quinlan doing the light weight on the penalised Sublime Talent.
Tom Hogan's front-running mare Spinning Wings, fourth to Profound Beauty at Leopardstown, Charles O'Brien's English import The Last Don and Cathy O'Leary's stable star Otterstown Lady would have live chances on faster ground.
However, the current conditions won't bother Pat Flynn's runaway Clonmel heroine Galianna, the first horse he's had for the Galileo mare's new owner JP McManus, and the 13lb hike incurred for leaving Curragh runner-up Admiral Barry well in arrears at the Tipperary track in May is unlikely to allow Eoin Griffin's year-younger charge to gain his revenge.
Verdict -- Galianna has tactical pace.
Claregalway Hotel Maiden (6.20)
The Desert Style colt A Word Apart, which has upcoming Group One entries, looked an ideal candidate for Weld's favoured juvenile race when a good second to Sydney Harbour in a decent Curragh contest.
The more exposed Robin Hood, which cost his followers dearly when unable to contain the challenge of newcomer Pathfork in a similar Curragh event over tonight's distance, is still preferred in this instance to stablemate Alexander Pope.
Verdict -- A Word Apart to deny Robin Hood.
Hotel Meyrick Novice Hurdle (5.10)
The admirably consistent joint top weight Cabernet Sauvignon sets a fair standard off a mark of 121 after his fluent Gowran Park defeat of the reopposing Suffren five weeks ago and he should be the one to beat unless there's definite ease underfoot.
Jerry's Agent renews rivalry with his recent Bellewstown victim Fingal Rock, which might be more versatile in terms of going.
Formerly useful on the Flat, Hail Caesar was the winner of a maiden hurdle at Ballinrobe last week with ease in the ground and may present a greater danger than The Rossmeister or the unexposed Force Of Habit.
Verdict -- Stay with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Jurys Inn Handicap Hurdle (5.45)
A host of penalised runners in opposition and it's anyone's guess which of them, if any, will defy the handicapper.
Plucky Kilbeggan scorer Bremen and well-bred Hunting Tower will have their chances helped by the valuable claims of Keith Donoghue and Eddie O'Connell.
Cylindar Rattler, which prospered in Wexford and Split Ear, seemingly at his best in the west after Ballinrobe and Sligo victories, resume under 10lb penalties and the latter from an in-form yard may be more effective on the ground which won't bother fellow Sligo winner Fearnwood Girl either.
Verdict -- Split Ear rates a sporting bet.
Galway Bay Hotel Handicap (7.35)
Costly to follow to date, Mutamaleq has the distinct advantage of a fairly high draw for its debut in handicap company but could have to settle yet again for place money behind Footprint , which is overdue a victory.
Verdict -- Footprint may fit the bill.
G Hotel Handicap (8.05)
Ger O'Leary's La Chassotte and Ben Curtis are out to give the handicapper more grief as they seek a rare fifth win on the bounce in this category with an extra 7lb to shoulder and maybe easier going than is ideal, so the alternative is gritty Leopardstown scorer Notalossonya.
Verdict -- Side with Notalossonya.